The waiter discreetly placed a check on the table. Cesca reached for it, but Terrence was faster. “Oh, no you don’t. This is on me. I invited you, remember?”
“You made a suggestion that we eat together,” she protested. “That’s not the same as an invitation, and you have no obligation to pay. Why don’t we split the tab fifty-fifty?”
“Nothing doing.” He briefly perused the bill, then removed several bills from his wallet and slipped them in the crease of the check holder.
“It’s not like we’re on a date or anything,” Cesca reminded him.
“Indulge me. I’d kind of like to think we are. So tell me…If this was a real date, would you want to see me again?”
"That isn’t fair, Terrence.”
He shrugged easily. “It seems like a pretty basic question to me. What’s not fair about it?”
“Because you know how I feel about law enforcement officers in general.”
Terrence nodded. “So you can accept me as a man, but not as a police officer. Is that it?”
His words sent a chill through her, for she absolutely could accept him as a man. What was more, she found herself repeating thinking about how wonderful it would feel to have those muscular arms hold her tightly, to feel those powerful-looking hands on her body...She sighed, knowing she had to answer his question. “The way you say it makes it sound so silly.”
He leaned in close, and her eyes focused on his mouth as he said, “Precisely the point I was trying to make.”
She closed her eyes, partly to get the picture of those sensuous lips out of her head.
But she couldn’t turn off her hearing, and his gentle voice floated to her ears. “I’m not trying to make you feel foolish, Cesca. I’m just trying to make you see how silly your thinking is, and I hope I can help you separate who I am from what I do.”
She considered this.
“Tell you what. Why don’t you tell me why you feel the way you do about policemen.”
Cesca’s brow wrinkled. “Isn’t it a little late to get into that conversation? I mean, dinner’s over.”
“Aha,” he said knowingly. “Dinner is over, but the evening isn’t. Do you expect the two of us to walk out the door and go our separate ways?”
Cesca lowered her chin to her chest and stared at him suspiciously. “And what were you expecting to happen?”
“I expect to take you home and see you safely to your door.”
She shook her head. “Out of the question.”
“Cesca, it wouldn’t be right for me to leave you to your own devices to get home. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a gentleman.”
“I appreciate your concern, Terrence, but I’ve lived in the city all my life. I really don’t need an escort. In fact, when I get home, I’ll be walking my dog.”
“Cesca, I’m a public servant. And tonight, my service to the city is to see that you get home safely. I really hope you won’t argue with me on this one.”
She decided it would be pointless. After the waiter brought Terrence’s change, he left a tip and stood, guiding her by the elbow out the front door.
They leisurely strolled north to Eighty-Fourth Street, where they turned west. They walked in chatty companionship across several lengthy crosstown blocks until they reached a quiet block of brick townhouses. Terrence knew this area was somewhat removed from the prime Manhattan real estate of the East Sixties and Seventies, but it certainly wasn’t cheap these days; even past Ninety-Ninth Street residential properties were priced at more than a thousand dollars per square foot. Francesca Perry was growing more intriguing by the moment. How was it that she, a seminar conductor, happened to live in such a wealthy neighborhood?
“This is it,” she said, coming to a halt in front of a redbrick house with that rarity among private homes in Manhattan, a garage.
“Nice digs,” he remarked. “I see your car has its own room.”
“It makes parking a breeze. The house actually belongs to my parents. I lived in Atlanta after college, and I had just taken my current job up here at around the same time they moved down to Charlotte, North Carolina. It made sense for me to move back in here. At first they didn’t want to sell in case things didn’t work out, and then the bottom fell out of the real estate market, and if they sold they wouldn’t get as much as they should for it.”
That explained the North Carolina plates on her car, he thought. She’d probably purchased the car down there for a lot less than what she would have paid in New York. “How long have they lived down there?”
“Three or four years. My father’s a partner in a private investment firm there, and my mother is a juvenile court judge. When they lived here my father worked on Wall Street. They moved to North Carolina a few years back. I was in Atlanta at the time, and I decided to come back to New York. They weren’t ready to sell the house just yet. For one, my mother planned on presiding over an occasional case, and my father also had business in the city. So I moved back here and lived in the house. It was a win-win situation.”
“So your mother is just semi-retired.”
“I guess you can say that. They, uh, left town rather abruptly, after my father had an incident with the police.”
Terrence’s eyebrows jutted upward in surprise. “It must have been pretty bad, if it prompted him to leave town,” he said tentatively.
“I hope you won’t mind if I say I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Of course not.” He just hoped that one day she would want to tell him.
“Well, I guess I’d better go in.” Cesca turned to him, smiling.
He knew she expected him to say goodnight to her here, but he didn’t like that idea. It simply wasn’t safe to share a goodnight kiss in front of an entrance just a few steps above street level; anyone could sneak up on them with the intention of robbery. So what if that scenario was unlikely, what with him being in uniform. He still didn’t want to do it, and he acknowledged the real reason.
He intended to kiss her, and he wanted to do it in private.
“Go ahead and unlock the door,” he instructed. At her surprised expression he added, “Don’t worry. I won’t venture beyond just inside. But I don’t want to say goodnight to you out here.”
With shaking hands, Cesca inserted the key in the lock. Her feminine instincts knew precisely why he wanted to say goodnight to her inside. It took three tries to find the keyhole...
As Cesca unlocked the door, Terrence heard the dog she’d mentioned barking inside. An alarm system immediately began a loud hum of warning from the moment she pushed the door in. “Come in quickly,” she said. “After thirty seconds, this thing starts blaring loud enough to wake the dead.”
He stepped inside and swiftly closed the door behind them. Cesca entered the digital code on the keypad, silencing it. A model-perfect Dalmatian now hovered around Cesca’s legs, his bark replaced by a whining sound. Terrence stared at the dog, clearly one of the prettiest of the species.
“He’s beautiful,” he said. “Or is it a she?”
Cesca bent over to address the dog. “Hi, baby,” she cooed. “Cesca’s home now. I’m gonna take you out in just a few minutes.” She gave the dog’s head an affectionate rub, then straightened up. “You were right, it’s a he.”
“What’s his name?”
Terrence couldn’t keep his voice from wavering with laughter. “Spot? Is that really the best name you could come up with for this beautiful animal?”
Cesca looked at him and shrugged. “I guess it isn’t very original, but it was the first thing that came to my mind, because of his...well, you know.”
“It’s incredibly unimaginative, like naming a German Shepherd ‘Shep.’” Terrence’s hands found their way into his pockets. “You said you were taking Spot for a walk. I have to go over to Lexington to get the subway. Why don’t you come with me at least part of the way? I’d feel better. It’s dark out, and little Spot here doesn’t look like he’d be much protection in case someone should...threaten you in any way.” Somehow he’d expected her to have a larger dog. No doubt Spot’s best function was barking from behind the doors of the townhouse, making his presence known, but keeping his petite size a secret from whoever was outside.
“Actually, since I did all that walking, I’ll probably just bring him out back and let him do his business.”
Terrence frowned, but quickly understood. People like Cesca who lived in private homes had small backyards. She’d probably be safe walking her dog on this quiet block, but it was all but assured if she was in her own backyard.
Spot scampered toward the rear of the house, and Cesca gave him a shy smile, her hands folded demurely in front of her body. “I want you to know, Terrence, that I had a lovely evening.”
“A lovely evening spent with anyone, or lovely evening spent with a law enforcement officer?” He didn’t give her the chance to reply. Instead he pulled her into his arms, noting that she didn’t resist. He gazed into her beautiful face. “I wanted tonight to go on and on and never come to an end. But now that it’s over, I have to say that I’ve been looking forward to this part as well.” His arms tightened around her shoulders as his face slowly descended toward hers. She raised her chin, and her eyelids fluttered shut just seconds before he touched his lips to hers.
They nibbled at each other in a slow, sensuous manner. Terrence rotated his palms in small circles over her shoulders. He wanted to pull her closer, to allow his hands to freely roam up and down the length and width of her back, wanted to bend his knees and push her buttocks in toward his erection so she could feel firsthand the effect she had on him, but he did none of those things. Instead he enjoyed the feel of her soft breasts pressing into his chest. He explored her mouth in a way that let it be known just what he wanted from her. But he was careful to keep the extent of his desire for her in check; kissing her with the intense hunger she brought out in him would only put her off. After all, they barely knew each other...and she was clearly uncomfortable with his uniform.
They were both out of breath when they broke apart. “Yes,” he said, “as much as I enjoyed earlier, this was the best part of the evening.” He smiled at her. “I’m going to say goodnight now, Cesca, but know this: You haven’t heard the last of me, because this policeman has every intention of pursuing you and getting you to change your mind about me. Goodnight.” He slipped out the front door, closing it behind him.
Cesca collapsed against the wall, her chest rising and falling with each breath she took. Terrence was gone, but he had no intention of leaving her life. He sounded so determined when he said he was going to get her to change her mind about not dating police officers.
The funny part was that when he took her in his arms and kissed her, she’d met his passion with her own, to the degree where, for those few moments at least, she’d totally forgotten about his profession.